Influenza viruses being uncoated in the cell

Flu pandemics: five key questions

What you need to know

1. Was there an overreaction to the H1N1 swine flu pandemic?

It is easy to be wise after the event. Fortunately, the pandemic was relatively mild, but that could not have been known initially. The official Hine Review of the UK’s response was generally positive, but made some recommendations to shape future actions.

2. Can we stop worrying about flu?

That wouldn’t be sensible. Seasonal flu is still responsible for thousands of deaths in the UK, even in mild flu years. Globally, influenza leads to the death of hundreds of thousands of people every year. And another pandemic is highly likely at some point – and could be far worse than the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

3. Are we getting better at treating and preventing flu?

Better surveillance is giving us more warning. Drug treatments are of some value but are by no means a cure; there is no sign yet of any anti-flu ‘wonder-drug’. Vaccines offer most hope for disease control, and plenty of new developments are in the pipeline.

4. Are we prepared for a flu pandemic?

The UK has an extensive strategy for dealing with a new flu pandemic, covering all areas of government and society.

5. Can we expect another pandemic in the future?

Almost certainly. The influenza virus evolves rapidly and genetic mixing of human, pig and bird viruses is probably happening all the time in pigs. It is highly likely that a novel virus will find its way into humans in the future – emphasising the importance of ongoing surveillance. An avian flu pandemic is a possibility, if a virus becomes transmissible between people.

Lead image:

Influenza viruses (the dark particles around the upper surface of the endosome) in an infected cell. These viruses are in the process of being uncoated before replicating in the host cell.

R Dourmashkin/Wellcome Images CC BY NC ND


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Influenza special issue’ in October 2009 and reviewed and updated in January 2015.

Health, infection and disease, Immunology, History
Influenza special issue
Education levels:
16–19, Continuing professional development